Presentation at the June 22, 2014 celebration of Nat Weinstein’s life
First, I want to express condolences to Debbie, Bonnie, Kevin and the Weinstein family.
I only knew Nat, just over the last several years. I didn’t know him back in his SWP days. He always impressed me as an honest person, very political, and he had this irrepressible fighting spirit that was with him for 70 years. He was committed to the liberation of the working class through his views of Trotskyism, and one thing that Nat and I had in common was that we were both in the merchant marines and both recruited to Trotskyism out of the merchant marines, he during World War II and me during the Vietnam War.
At that time, I was recruited to the then revolutionary Spartacist League whose genesis began in the SWP as the Revolutionary Tendency. We had differences with the leadership over the question of the characterization of the Cuban revolution, the Cuban state that evolved from that, and with Black Nationalism and we were expelled for that. But the one thing I did in my understanding of Trotskyism through the Spartacist League was to build class struggle caucuses within the trade unions and we did that in the National Maritime Union. We built the Militant-Solidarity Caucus based on Trotsky’s Transitional Program, recognizing that the workers with their consciousness of the present day could be brought to the realization that their liberation can only come through a socialist revolution, and through those series of transitional demands we were committed in the NMU, the National Maritime Union, to bringing seamen around to revolutionary politics and we did manage to recruit a few, including myself.
I quit the Spartacist League after moving out here to the West Coast, but I continued to do class struggle work in the ILWU, longshore union, of which I had become a member. I worked closely with Howard Keylor who is a member of the International Bolshevik Tendency. In 1984, he was one of the leaders and the initiator of the motion to boycott the next ship that came in from South Africa during the apartheid years. Actually, Bob Mandel, who I see sitting out there, [at the Celebration of Nat Weinstein’s Life,] was the one who actually conceived of the idea. He had realized that the ILWU with a long history of opposing racism and the apartheid regime hadn’t yet taken any job action to bring down the apartheid dictatorship. So Howard made the motion and we organized an 11-day boycott against the next ship that came in from South Africa. I think it was those kinds of actions that impressed Nat. He saw that while we have our differences, that what we were doing was showing the potential for the proletariat to organize along a revolutionary basis.
In 1999, we organized, along with the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, an action here in San Francisco, but not only in San Francisco—up and down the whole West Coast. We shut down all the ports in April of 1999 to demand freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal and we led the march that was called by the Mobilization to Free Mumia here in the city of San Francisco. We had about 25,000 people marching that day. So it was a significant step forward. A couple of years ago, 2008 on May Day, the Longshore union, again, stepped up and we shut down every port on the West Coast and the resolution within the Union stated, “Against the imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—that workers have the power to bring these imperialist wars to an end, and that simply voting for Democrats who talked ‘peace’ but made war, wasn’t going to do it.” Unfortunately, the Longshore union was the only union that took action to that extent.
I visited Nat in the hospital the week before he died, and he spoke very passionately about the inevitable demise of capitalism, over-production and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, and he was convinced that socialism would prevail, that the workers would make a revolution. I wanted to read what he was most enthusiastic about on May Day, which was going to happen a week after I visited him. We were bringing over one of the leaders of NUMSA, the Metal Workers Union of South Africa, which is engaged in a very militant class struggle there. They’re calling for the building of a workers party to fight for socialism in South Africa. And so just the other day I received by email this document of the Metal Workers Union. When Nat and I were talking about this his eyes just lit up, because he saw the real tangible possibility of a workers revolution being able to actually take root in this world in his lifetime.
Of course we didn’t know that how few days he had left. But let me just read this from the Metal Workers:
“The Central Committee called on the working class not to be fooled and blinded by anyone, but to understand that in a capitalist state or a class divided country like South Africa, the state will always act in the interest of the dominant class, the class that own, control and commands the economy, political and social life. This is, after all, the real reason for the existence of any state, and in the South African case, we understand the dominant capitalist class to be centered on the minerals, energy, finance complex and axis. We are therefore not surprised that the post 1994 South African state and government, a state and government whose strategic task and real reason for existence is the defense and sustenance of the minerals, energy and finance complex, will do anything to defend the property rights and profits of this class, including slaughtering the working class.” (And this happened, the massacre of striking miners in Marikana where the ANC and the SACP government bloodily repressed that workers strike.) “NUMSA, the Metal Workers Union, is extremely disgusted by this display of police brutality. The actions of the police confirm that we have not post-1994 transformed the apartheid state and its violent machinery. The actions of the police make a mockery of everything else we thought was transformed, including parliament. By this singular act, the police have violently reminded us once again what Marx and Lenin taught us about the state. That is, it’s always an organ of class rule and class oppression and that the bourgeois democracy is nothing but the best political shell behind which the bourgeoisie hides its dictatorship.”
And for Nat and me and so many others to be following what’s happening in South Africa—what the NUMSA struggle is about and the miners struggle is about—the working class of South Africa is demonstrating that Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution is the way forward and that’s why in my last visit with Nat, he was so moved to hear what’s going on in South Africa and it was for him a confirmation that Trotsky was right about the permanent revolution.